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gravel

Branson Hi Lo Gravel Grinder

This weekend I headed to the SE part of Colorado to visit the little town of Branson, CO and join their Hi Lo Gravel Grinder. Never heard of Branson, CO? Me neither! But I had a great time there — very nice people and incredibly beautiful and rugged countryside.

Also, no stores or gas stations so you have to plan ahead a bit before making the drive… I topped off the fuel tank in Trinidad before making the final hour of the drive. Also, while there, I hit up the Paradox Beer Company since I was in the area, as I do. (try their Decipher EZ IPA. Yum!) Gotta keep collecting beers in the Untappd app, you know.

Approaching the town of Branson — and looking in awe at what is behind it…

Equipment

I wasn’t sure what to expect so for tires I went with the safe option of a WTB Riddler 37 in the rear and my chunky 43 WTB Raddler up front. I have had great luck with that combo on sandier courses.

Well, in hindsight, I wish I would have gone with a skinnier set of 33’s or 35’s. The gravel and dirt on this course had challenges, for sure, but there was definitely no sand. I think skinnier tires would have been faster and less rolling resistance in the long haul.

I am still in love with my Redshift equipment. Man, that really helps smooth out the bumps. Especially for my hands and wrists. Best investment yet, no question.

The Ride

This one isn’t a race. No numbers or timing chips. But it is what I would call a great adventure ride and I had been looking forward to it for a few months. I knew I was going to see some new country. Also, I did more-or-less train for it as a race. I knew it would be tough and I wanted to hit it hard.

And damn it, I didn’t take one single picture. I have such remorse from that!

Saturday morning dawned sunny with very calm winds. We had a riders’ meeting around 9 and then they turned loose the 70 and 100 mile course riders. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have minded starting an hour earlier. By noon it was getting hot out there! But I didn’t mind that extra hour of relaxing and coffee drinking either.

I did the 70 mile course (Strava link) and loved it. A little more pavement than usual, but some of the pavement was rougher than the gravel so I can’t complain too loudly. You definitely couldn’t let up your guard.

A look at the course and elevation profile. We started in Branson and went counter-clockwise. The gnarliest stuff was the half in New Mexico, I’d say.

The first hour we covered over 20 miles! The gravel was fast and then there was a stretch of highway to cover in there. That first water stop came up before I knew it. However, after that things started to get tough. Especially the Trinchera pass piece (hopefully I spelled that right). Over 10 miles of climbing, with some grades over 10%, on dirt road (not gravel) peppered with river rock and larger stones. I described it later as the part I loved the most — and hated the most. It was a great challenge and the scenery was incredible! But damn, that was some hard work. My legs handled it, but it definitely came at a cost. And man I was SO GLAD to see a volunteer at the top of that with more water. I tracked him down after the finish and thanked him again.

From there we had an 8 mile descent on some sketchy asphalt into Fulsom, NM. Sharing the road with cattle hauling semis bouncing through the ruts can get a bit exciting(!) but that long downhill was just the ticket after that grueling climb 🙂

The final water stop was at 61 miles and that’s when it realized I was just within 10 miles of the finish line. Just had to climb up another pass. Which happened to be a strava segment with prizes. I was probably 5 or 10 minutes into that climb before I realized this was THE climb and decided I should speed up a bit. Which got me the KOM and prize for that segment for the day 🙂 I do like to climb hills.

From there it was an easy ride back into town and an awesome meal of brisket and pork that had spent the night in a pit BBQ (and hey! I helped cover all that up the night before!). Also a couple beers and a lot of chatting with the other riders and the super friendly volunteers.

Lodging

I mentioned no stores or gas stations in town, so where did riders stay? Well, some camped on the school grounds where we started and finished. Others overnighted in Trinidad, CO and drove into town that morning.

I had happened to talk to Christine, the race organizer, early on and was able to get dibs on and rent her tiny home for the weekend. And man, that worked great. I had supper in Trinidad on Friday, topped of my fuel tank, then drove into Branson. Hung out Friday night, did the big ride on Saturday, then hung out Saturday night. Drove home Sunday morning.

Worked out perfectly! Christine did a great job as race organizer and still managed to be a very accommodating host as well.

Conclusion

This one is definitely off of the beaten path, but the experience was so worth the taking a chance on it. I wish there were more riders and next year I’ll try and help a bit more in getting the word out. Also, if I do come back next year (and I would like to), I’d like to try for the 100 mile route. I almost went after it this time, but when it was time to decide the wind was coming up and I chickened out.

Maybe next year.

4 replies on “Branson Hi Lo Gravel Grinder”

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